The moon that I watched rise, pink-orange, from gray seas as I dodged bufo big as boulders on the bike path, chased by rain, but never fully caught, was still up this morning, bold white in the west, having traveled across the sky as I journeyed through a landscape of pleasant dreams.
What is it about rich people that sparks all kinds of dreams among we common folk about benevolence and charity and hand-outs to fund the dreamers' dreams?
I first became aware of that dynamic when I managed the multi-million-dollar Kalihiwai estate and watched people's eyes light up as they visited the property and invariably got to thinking about how they might grab a piece of that action.
Except, as Pink Floyd would sing, “But if you ask for a rise it's no surprise that they're giving none away.....”
I bring it up because I recently came across an article I'd written for the April 2001 issue of Hawaii Investor, after AOL/Time Warner billionaire Steve Case spent $26 million to buy Grove Farm, one of the largest private landholdings on Kauai.
The editors — not I — titled it “Kauai's Bright Light,” because it was still a time when, as I wrote:
The island's most active minds are spinning scenarios on how he might raise Grove Farm from the dead and maybe spread a little of his wealth. Some are hoping Case will develop a high-tech educational center on his new property. Others want him to carve out 2,900 acres at Mahaulepu as a wilderness preserve. Still others are eagerly anticipating an increase in Grove Farm's philanthropy.
Much of the optimism was predicated on Case's family ties to Kauai, with former Planning Director Dee Crowell and Beryl Blaich, director of Malama Mahaulepu, believing he would have “some sensitivity to Kauai and the Kauai lifestyle,” as Dee phrased it.
All along, though, longtime Grove Farm President David Pratt cautioned that the expectations might not be warranted, saying the firm was unlikely to veer from the course it had set years ago, which included a resort development on at Mahauelepu:
“[I]t's a very important and valuable piece of our property,” Pratt says. “We would like to do something with that property besides just giving it away. Somewhere out there is a workable compromise where everybody gets something, including Grove Farm.”
Ron Kouchi, then Council chair, was the only one to see the writing on the wall:
We were already blipping on the radar screens in terms of people coming here and bying land. All over Hawaii, that's where the big money has been coming from — the dot.coms. That's why it's important for us to have our dreams out there, to be clear in articulating what we need and want, so we can make sure the people who buy share our values and care about Kauai in the long haul.
So what has been the reality in the14 years since Case bought Grove Farm? Well, nostalgia certainly hasn't been a factor, considering how Steve never even fixed up the family home, which is falling apart over near Kukui Grove.
Then there was the way they evicted all those longtime families from Koloa Camp in order to build affordable homes, rushing everybody to get out for a project that has since lagged.
And let's not forget the big sale of raw land at Kipu to another billionaire, tobacco magnate Brad Kelley.
Which was followed by leasing the important ag lands in Mahaulepu valley to Hawaii Dairy Farms, a quasi-philanthropic venture financed by yet another billionaire, Pierre Omidyar. That proposal has quickly built up a solid block of mostly NIMBY opponents.
Ironically, a dairy would have been one of the dreams articulated back in 2001, when we valued agriculture on this island and realized the choice was between growing crops and growing mostly upscape homes and resorts. That was before activists opposed to the seed/chem companies decried all agriculture as toxic, evil, industrial and unsustainable, aside from a handful of equally unsustainable organic farms that depend on the mainland for cheap "woofer" labor, fertilizers and inputs.
Back then, the county had also just adopted a two-year moratorium on ag subdivisions, while it supposedly “fixed” the law. But not before numerous fake ag subdivisions were approved, leading to the gentrification of ag land and the proliferation of high-end vacation rentals — most of them now grandfathered in, courtesy of Councilmen like Jay Furfaro and Tim Bynum.
So what are our dreams now? And are they any more real, or likely to be realized, than the pipe dreams we had about Steve Case and his benevolence?
Meanwhile, The Garden Island, in its warm, fuzzy, cloaked-in-aloha editorial on the Kauai Planning and Action Alliance's most recent report on community indicators, serves us just the tiniest hint of reality. Though curiously, it never actually reports on any of these issues:
The income gap increased on Kauai, resulting in a growing poverty rate of 12.9 percent. The number of children living in poverty increased to 18.3 percent.
• Child abuse and neglect cases increased sharply and the number of medically uninsured jumped.
“Somehow, we’re not meeting the needs of the lowest economic sector of our population,” [KPAA director Diane Zachary] said. “A lot of people still have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, so they have less time with their families.”
In other words, real life is getting harder for many locals on this island as mainlanders spin new dreams about pristine Kauai leading the global fight against GMOs, and everyone living happily ever after sustained solely by a "yarden."
As a friend, a local boy now dead from ice and a broken heart, used to say:
All the newcomers have one dream about what Kauai should be. And the locals just mourn what was.